Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My weekend trip to New York

This past weekend, I went to New York to visit my grandma. She lives in Queens, but my dad and I did make it into Manhattan to take in more of the city. For as many times as we have both been in New York City, we have NEVER seen the holiday mayhem like this before! The streets were packed, and there were some times that you weren't even walking: we just let the crowd push us! Here are some highlights from the (very quick) trip:

1. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree: Not to be missed! I see it every morning on the Today Show, but I got to see it in person!
It's so big! Photo by E. Mitchell Arion.
2. Ice Skating in Bryant Park: We first went to Bryant Park on Saturday night. The place was INSANE! The rink was packed, the lines were incredibly long, AND there are all these little pop-up shops in the park, so there were tons of people there who weren't planning to skate! My dad and I blew it off and decided to go on Sunday morning. WHAT a better choice! The rink opens at 8 AM, and when we got there around 7:45, there were only a few other people around. We brought our own skates and lock (for the locker), so it was absolutely free! (Keep in mind that everyone has to pay $18 to skate in Central Park, whether you need to rent skates or not.). We did have to wait until about 8:15 for these little kids to finish up their hockey lesson, but then we skated for almost an hour, which was lovely! There weren't too many people, and everyone was pretty well-behaved, so it was a lot of fun. I definitely recommend it!

The "Winter Village" is sponsored by Bank of America. I guess there's a sponsor for everything! Image found here.
Each house is a "holiday shop" full of souvenirs! They sold everything from food (chocolate, mac 'n' cheese) to jewelry to ornaments to scarves and hats...Great for gifts! Image found here.

3. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show: We had never seen this before, and we just happened upon it! I think the show happens about every 10 minutes, and because of the crazy crowds, you were probably going to be standing on the sidewalk for 10 minutes anyway because you couldn't move! The light show was really incredible. Check out this video:

4. The NHL Store: Since my dad is a huge hockey fan, of course we had to stop by the NHL store! I think my favorite item were the hockey Legos: I didn't know such a thing existed!

If you want ice hockey merchandise (including $400 jerseys!), this is the place to go! Image found here.
How cute! Even the mascots are included! Screen shot from here.

We were only in New York for less than two days, so unfortunately we didn't get to see too much. But despite ALL the tourists, I still recommend seeing NYC in the Christmas spirit!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Washington Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker"

Image found here.
For the past three years, I have seen "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center (Ballet West and the Joffrey Ballet). They have been absolutely wonderful! But this year I wanted to mix it up. I have lived in the DC area for almost four years now, and I had never seen the city's own company, the Washington Ballet. I figured it was about time, so this year, I saw them perform the famous Christmas ballet.

Image found here.
There were pros and cons to changing my usual routine. The Warner Theatre is certainly easier to get to, and it is a beautiful (albeit smaller) venue. I also heard that this version was somewhat DC-centric, so I thought that would be interesting. BUT there was no live orchestra for this performance (which is half the fun of the show!), and Septime Webre is...quite the character. He welcomed us by saying, "Tonight is a special night, because you are here." Hmm... He also taught us how to say "Bravo!" before the show, and named Geico as a sponsor, which I can't imagine ever happening at the Kennedy Center. The Washington Ballet is quite a small company, and I realized during the show that many of the dancers are students, not actually company members. While this is a wonderful opportunity for young people, I hadn't planned on paying almost $50 to see amateurs dance to recorded music...

The ballet opened the same way as usual, with the family party. Clara, played by Emily Ann Hester, was just as you'd imagine her to be. She was wonderful, and I loved when, while she is getting ready for the party, she looks in the mirror and sees herself as the Sugar Plum Fairy (every girl's dream, no?).  And I was quite pleased to see that her "prince" was her own age. Usually in "The Nutcracker," Clara is a young girl and her prince is a grown man, which is kind of creepy. But in this case, they were both teenagers, so I thought that was quite nice. Clara's father (played by Gian Carlo Perez) was wearing a smoking jacket at first, and all I could picture was Hugh Hefner. Drosselmeyer was weird as usual, with his eye patch and cape, but I was surprised the audience didn't clap when he revealed the nutcracker (which resembled George Washington!). And of course there were tons of children on stage, and they were quite cute and funny. Props to those little kids for being so brave to dance up there on that big stage!

Because of the DC-theme of the performance, much of the children's dancing was quite militaristic: marching, saluting, etc. The soldiers were even dressed as Rebels in the Revolutionary War, and the rats were the Redcoats (They actually looked more like wolves than rats.)! There were also some children dressed as colonial-times mice, who shook their tails (butts) at us...

Image found here.
There were many loud sounds and bright lights throughout the show! They were quite jarring! Image found here.

The Redcoat rats bowing to their king. Image found here.
Which of course made me think of Wayne's World:

The snowflake number was next. I had not noticed this before, but someone had mentioned earlier how long the snow bit is, and it does kind of last for a while! The dancers did a nice job, but I ended up thinking, "Let's wrap it up!" But I've never been a very patient person...

I did enjoy the costumes on the snowflakes. They reminded me of the frost fairies in Fantasia (which features much if not all of the music from this famous ballet). I also liked that they didn't use props. Frequently companies will have the snowflakes hold something in their hands to resemble falling snow, but I find props to be distracting.

Image found here.
The Snow Queen (Ashley Murphy) and Snow King (Samuel Wilson) were not very good. Perhaps they are talented individually, but they did not dance well together. There was one nice lift, but otherwise, their connection was very forced. You could see their hands wobble and the unsureness of the dance. The dancers should know their partners so well that the dance simply flows naturally! It was simply sloppy, which was unfortunate. At least Wilson looked like a Ken Doll in white tights...mmm...Moving on.

The second act starts with Clara and her prince coming in on a boat down the Potomac River (with dolphins?) Here we saw mushrooms, flowers, and all types of animals dance, like a frog, deer, squirrel, and fox! I believe most of these dancers were students, and they did quite a good job!

I think these little girls are supposed to be butterflies. They were too cute! Image found here.
I was surprised how many dancers were on stage during the Spanish Chocolate and Chinese Tea dances. Usually it's a couple or two, but there was so many dancers that I didn't know where to look! The dancers for the Chinese number moved like one of those Chinese dragons, except they created a fish! A little boy played the tail of the fish, which was pretty adorable.

Chinese Tea dance. Image found here.
The Arabian Coffee dance is always my favorite because it is so sensual. This version did not disappoint. Ayano Kimura and Corey Landolt represented the "Anacostia Maiden" and "Anacostia Brave" respectively (again, with the local theme). This dance was so sexy! The two dancers moved very well together, and the lifts were amazing. It's that kind of dancing that inspires me to blues dance!
Image found here.
Although these are different dancers than I saw, I did see this move, which must be the most impressive in all of ballet. Image found here.

Brooklyn Mack was very good in the Russian dance (which in this performance was a dance from a frontiersman like Davy Crockett...). He is a very talented dancer! He was fun to watch, and he got the loudest applause from the audience during the entire performance! (Image found here.)

Image found here.
The next dance baffled me. I didn't know who the dancers were supposed to be in their red feather outfits (which had horribly obvious zippers in the back), and then a cat/raccoon animal joined in! I believe this was supposed to be the "Dance of the Reed Pipes," but I suppose the local spin on this dance was to make the dancers cardinals and a cat...? I was so distracted by the furry dancer that I couldn't think of much else.

When it came time to see Mother Ginger's (or in this case Mother Barnum's) children, I was very surprised to see that her skirt was a carousel! I love carousels (duh, because there are horses). The children could even ride on them! The clowns were children, although not as young as I've seen in other performances. They did cartwheels and such (one of them fell but played it off well), and the "littlest clown," played by Isabelle Baker, was very good! Mother Barnum (played by Daniel Roberge) was quite funny (yet still a creepy clown), but he may have upstaged the tiny clowns with his version of the "Single Ladies" dance. Here's the video of a previous performance:

Image found here.
I will admit, I forgot that the Dew Drop Fairy (played by Morgann Rose) even existed. I liked the costumes of the other ballerinas, which look like the cherry blossoms around the tidal basin in DC (like this). But I was not a fan of the outfit that the Dew Drop Fairy had to wear. The corset was very strange in that it was not connected to the skirt; it just poked out! And the tutu was just plain white with cheap sparkly bits on it. It was weird, since the neckline of the corset was completely bejeweled; it was like the skirt was an afterthought. I think I was so distracted by the outfit that I can't even remember if I enjoyed Rose's dancing or not!

I couldn't find a picture of Derechyna in her costume! Image found here.
The Sugar Plum Fairy (Kateryna Derechyna) is the epitome of a ballerina. She was amazing! Why doesn't it surprise me that the company's best dancer isn't even American? But of course most of the best dancers come from Eastern Europe and Russia anyway... But I will note that the company is very diverse! Which I suppose shouldn't be surprising, since DC is such an international city. At the curtain call, we got to see the international side of the program all over again, with the Spanish Chocolates and other treats practically performing a whole second number before taking a bow!

At the end, Clara performs her own solo and then rides off on a hot air balloon (!)  by herself. I thought she usually goes off into the sunset with her prince, but maybe this Clara is more independent?

My main complaint about my whole evening was that the program didn't list the dancers and their parts. You actually had to go outside to the hallway to read a poster that listed the dancers for that night. I've never seen that before. How hard is it to put that information in the program book?

And sadly we did not get to see THIS:

Image found here.
That would have been hysterical! Oh, and I forgot to mention this guy:

Image found here.
This old guy was at the opening party scene. He wore a kilt and walked with a cane. He  was a total lush, drinking throughout the party, and dangled mistletoe above his head to get kisses from all of the ladies at the party. He also could miraculously dance without the cane...

All in all, I enjoyed the performance, but this is not the strongest version of "The Nutcracker." Three stars.

Friday, December 11, 2015

2015 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

Screen shot from here.
Every year I look forward to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. This year I had to be very careful about spoilers, since the show took place days (if not weeks!) before the show aired on TV. I tried not to read any tweets or articles about the show, or even glance at photos. I wanted to be surprised! (I had this same issue last year, too!)

This year's show was very anti-climactic. For one, I had some of the same complaints as I did last year. The new girls just aren't very good (They have good bodies, but not necessarily pretty faces, and they aren't actually good at walking the runway!), and they are silly, pretending to kiss each other, smacking each other on the butt, playing with their boobs...They're not professional, and this is their job! I also thought the show was less over-the-top than in past years, although I agree with Candice Swanepoel (one of my faves) when she says that the music "makes it more than a fashion show." (See music videos below). I also didn't like that the name of the collections weren't shown on the TV screen like it was last year. If you missed the announcer say what the theme was, you missed it and had to guess! How hard is it to put some text on there?

The show started with a collection of "color vomit" (a term I used last year), with Behati Prinsloo no less, who I don't think is sexy at all (She even said walking the runway is "like performing in front of the whole world watching." Um, no shit.). I think the theme was something like psychedelic 70's (think of The Doors), and the music was not live, which was unfortunate. Fringe was everywhere in this collection, along with many capes. And there were so many wings, it's like they aren't even special anymore! Every other look had wings!

This was the opening look. Really? What's sexy about that? Image found here.
"But I don't want to be a pirate!" Screen shot.
Kendall Jenner in a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show! Image found here.
There is just too much to look at! What a mess! Image found here.
In those lace-up leather boots/chaps, she looks like a naughty angel! Screen shot.

"Portrait of an Angel" was the second collection. In general I liked this one because it was very romantic, and all of the fabrics looked luxurious. Some of the wings looked more like mobiles, and a lot of the outfits had weird bits around the models' midsections, which was strange. Let them show off their flat tummies! Well, except Izabel Goulart, since she has an outie belly-button. And I wasn't a big fan of all the puffy sleeves. They look stupid!

I'm not sure those count as wings... Image found here.
Not diggin' the sleeves... Image found here.
Looks like Belle got into a fight with the Beast... She was by far the worst walker, too! Image found here
TOO MANY PUFFY SLEEVES! Image found here.
I LOVE these sheer pants, though! Image found here.
I swear these gold wings were re-used from last year's show...Image found here.
These fabric wings are so romantic! Image is a screen shot from video listed below.
Another Disney princess gone wrong. It's pretty, but the juxtaposition of sweet/innocent and sexy is off-putting. Screen shot.
What is going on around her waist? Screen shot.
This feather coat is amazing. But again, why does she have a garter belt around her waist? Screen shot.
Her wings are a bow! This sheer fabric is one of my favorites. Screen shot.
Before the next collection, the models were interviewed about Instagram, and then some of the girls talked about being featured in Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" music video. I realize this is all part of pop culture, but can we please get on with the show? The next collection was all about butterflies. I love butterflies, and they have wings just like angels, so why not?

Gigi Hadid (the next "it" girl) moved her arms like wings! So pretty! Image found here.
Stella Maxwell is my least favorite model. She is NOT pretty! Image found here.
I didn't recognize Shanina Shaik (maybe I just forgot?), but she makes a great Goth Butterfly! Image found here.
These were some of my favorite wings of the night. Image found here.
She looks like a little girl playing dress-up... Image found here.
I'm apathetic about the nude underwear, but these butterfly wings are incredible! Image found here.
Still confused why there's all that fabric covering her stomach! Screen shot.
This capelet is so feminine and pretty! Screen shot.
I think her wings are supposed to look like that, but since one is in front and one is behind, they look broken! Screen shot.
This sparkly cape was the highlight piece for me of the show. I want it! Screen shot.
These were the largest wings of the show. You could tell they were heavy, and she looked in pain. She didn't fool any of us! (unlike Karolina Kurkova, who did it with grace). Screen shot.
The next part started with interviews of the models about their exercise routines. It's kinda hot how intense Jasmine Tookes is with her workouts! But I think it was a little bit of a stretch when one of the models said that getting ready for the fashion show was like "training for the Olympics." Umm...not quite. This collection featured the VS sport line along with the PINK line, which I thought was kind of neat. It's not as pretty, but it was a cool way to mix things up. I think this collection was supposed to be "All-American" of some sort?

Just wait...More earmuffs and mittens to come...Image found here.
Where do balloons come in when it comes to American pride...? Image found here.
Gigi as a firefighter. Kinda hot. Image found here.
This is so cheesy, like one of those cheap, sexy Halloween costumes! Image found here.
The flag and an astronaut...? Image found here.
I've never seen a cowgirl wear boots like that before... Image found here.
She's a...finish line? This outfit isn't very flattering... Image found here.
Her surfboard is her wings! Now that's creative! Image found here.
When we got back from the commercial break, the models were talking about Christmas memories and wished all of us watching a Merry Christmas. "Arch Angels" was the next collection, which had a winter theme. The runway looked like ice (think Frozen), and there were lit-up white Christmas trees! I really like the idea of this theme. Some outfits were awesome, but others flopped (i.e. "the usual").

These wings look like paper snowflakes! And this body suit is SO sexy! Image found here.
I get that it's a winter theme, but the ear muffs and mittens go too far. But the bridal lingerie is so pretty! Image found here.
Again, not loving the accessories. But the wings and actual lingerie are to die for! Image found here.
Why does Victoria's Secret get away with having their models wear headdresses? Screen shot.
Snow bunny #1. It's hard to see her big, white, fuzzy hat here... Screen shot.
Snow bunny #2! The jacket and goggle are kind of fun, I'll admit. Screen shot.
I could do without the cotton ball thing behind her, but this body suit is amazing. Screen shot.
So bejeweled! I love it! Image found here.
Eek, too sweet and cute! Screen shot.
Same critique: "meh" on the accessories, but the lingerie itself is lovely. Image found here.

The last collection was called "Fireworks." I thought it was pretty good, though I still don't understand why they couldn't have brought Katy Perry in to sing her hit "Firework."

These wings lit up! How cool! Image found here.
These look more like flowers than fireworks... Image found here.
And these wings spun around! That was cool, but I'm not sure what those snake things are... Image found here.
Love this big firework, but why wear a garter belt with no garters? Image found here.
More lights! Image found here.
I think the sparkly body suits were my favorite outfits of the night. They are so hot! Image found here.
Alessandra Ambrosio looked amazing as ever. Definitely one of my all-time favorite models! Image found here.
Adriana Lima deserves better than this ugly pink thing. Image found here.
Are those fireworks? Because all I could think of was Medusa. Screen shot.
These wings featured fireworks before they explode. Screen shot.
"Boom!" Love these star wings! Screen shot.

The featured performers were The Weeknd, Ellie Goulding, and Selena Gomez. Each performed a lesser known song first, but then sang their hits later on, which was better. Here are some videos:


Selena Gomez' performance was very much like Ariana Grande's was last year. She had too many back-up dancers, and she was too silly with the models (she smacked Gigi Hadid's butt! Rude!). I couldn't find a great video of her performance.

I think the biggest disappointment was the Fantasy Bra (i.e. made from gem stones). The bra isn't really that pretty, AND they chose Lily Aldridge to wear it! She is one of my least favorite Victoria's Secret models. That gap in her teeth! I just can't let it go.

"Yuck" on so many levels... Image found here.
 What were your thoughts about this year's fashion show? If you missed it, here's my review from last year.